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You did not Choose Me but I Chose you
By Reverend Father Christopher Lee
Ordained to the Priesthood on28 August 2005
All the passages below are taken from the book ďCalled & ChosenĒ published in 2006 by the Serra Club of Singapore. Its website address is www.serrasingapore.org and the book can be purchased from various Catholic bookshops.
The Gospel verse "You did not choose Me, but I chose you," from John 15:16 was the central theme of my Sacerdotal Ordination, for it certainly very much reflects my journey to the priesthood. Hence I chose this as the Gospel reading for my Ordination Mass to remind myself of the Lord's goodness in choosing me to be His priest despite my unworthiness.
A Faithful Alter Server at 9 Years Old
I am the eldest son in a Catholic family o three children; I have a younger sister and brother. I grew up in the vicinity of the Church of St. Stephen at Salim Road.
I was in Primary Two when I became an altar server at the Church of St. Stephen. From the outset of my becoming an altar server, I took my responsibility very seriously and was always ready to serve at Mass. I only left the Altar Servers Society when I was enlisted for National Service. However, I remained active in the Legion of Mary and also the Youth Group. I remember Fathers Henry Siew, Richards Ambrose and Stephen Yim, were also from my neighbourhood community and as youngsters, they too at different points in time served in the parish as well.
Feeling Godís Call at Age 22
It must have been the devout prayers and godly example of my mum, who was a Sacristan at the parish that led me to attend daily Mass. I also prayed the rosary daily.
When I was almost finishing my National Service at the age of 22, I had this strong inner feeling of God calling me to serve Him as a priest. When I first received this invitation from God, I was very doubtful. I began questioning my own worthiness to be the Lord's servant. I wanted to be certain and I started searching for an answer to affirm this Calling. I enquired and spoke with various priests and religious sisters in the hope of affirming God's Calling. Yet I was unsure.
Father Simon Yim---My First SD & Confidant
In the process, Father Simon Yim who was the Assistant Parish Priest at the Church of St. Stephen then, became my Spiritual Director with whom I would seek counsel and spiritual direction. Apart from Father Simon Yim, I did not tell my family or friends about my discerning the priestly vocation.
After my National Service, I started work in a local bank as a teller while still remaining active in church and attending daily Mass. I continued to discern my Calling by attending an eight-day silent retreat with a religious sister but at the end of the retreat, I was still unsure. I wanted to be sure and I needed to be sure! I attended various vocation weekends conducted by the different religious congregations and I met Father Moses Yap and Sister Wendy Ooi who were also at some of these talks as they were also discerning their vocations then. Finally, Father Moses decided to join the Franciscans and invited me to join him, but I felt that God was not calling me to be a Franciscan and hence I continued to discern further.
Only God could Fill the Emptiness
I continue to live life as any young adult would, getting together with friends and making new ones as we went along. At one point, a friend of mine even brought me to join the Catholic singles of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in their social gatherings and activities. Though I did take part in various social activities, I never had any serious girlfriend. While I was happy with all the "distractions" that life offered and though I was also actively serving in church---I felt that there was still something missing in my life, that there was something more that God perhaps wanted of me. There was an emptiness in me that only God could fill.
Following the Lordís Call
After seriously discerning for nearly two years, I decided to join the seminary. Before I submitted my application to the seminary, I confided in my parents separately of my decision. Both my parents did not object, however, my mum was concerned if I were sure that it was what I really wanted. At the same time, she was also worried that I might not be able to make it as a priest.
It was a big challenge for me; to enter into the seminary, to leave everything and to follow the Lord's Call. Father Simon Yim helped me with my application to the St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary in 1993 and I was accepted. The Rector then was Father Lawrence Yeo.
Excited on the First Day at the Seminary
I remember my family accompanied me to the seminary and I was feeling rather excited about finally entering the seminary. It was on a Wednesday and the seminarians were out as it was their day off. There was only one seminarian (who turned out to be Father Kenson Koh) there to welcome me at the seminary entrance and brought me to the block where the seminarians' quarters were. I was the first to arrive and shortly, there were three others who came at different intervals. That was when I first met my three fellow new seminarians. I am happy to say that all of them are now priests; Fathers Luke Fong, Brian D'Souza and Frederick Quek.
Difficulties that Led to Doubts
Adjusting to the community life in the seminary was not really a problem for me. However, I had quite a bit of difficulties with my studies. During my second year in the seminary, I had so many struggles with my studies that I started to doubt if I had a priestly calling. I consulted Father William Goh who was then my Spiritual Director and I finally made the decision to leave the seminary as I felt I could not make the academic mark.
Calling it Quits
When I left the seminary in 1995, I never had any thoughts of returning to the seminary. I thought that perhaps I had already taken the step to test the Calling and since things did not work out, I could then be free to pursue other options in life, like getting married and raising a family instead. Hence I quickly found a job and went back to the working world. I resumed my church activities in my parish and continued to faithfully attending Mass daily and praying the rosary.
The Lord Did Not Give Up on Me
However, within less than a year of my leaving the seminary, I felt the strong Calling of the Lord again. Deep within me, somehow I knew it was not my own feelings or desire at play. Therefore, I felt compelled to speak to Father Lawrence Yeo, who was still the Rector of the seminary then. He was very understanding and encouraging. I told him that I would like to study for my 'Aí Levels before I rejoin the seminary and he supported the idea. Hence, I quit my job and studied for my `A' Levels. He even arranged for people to help me in my studies. Thereafter in 1997, I applied to the seminary again and I was grateful that the seminary Fathers accepted me back. I was certainly glad that the Lord did not give up on me despite my failings.
Trust in God this Time Round
When I rejoined the seminary, I was determined to put my trust in God. I felt that it was when I failed to trust Him that I was overwhelmed by my difficulties when I joined the seminary the first time round. I was blessed that when I rejoined, there were three others who also joined that year. Hence I was not alone. Again, I thank God that all four of us made it through the formation and have been ordained priests. Some of you may recall in 2005, during the short span from 7 August to 4 September, four diocesan deacons were ordained priests; they were Fathers Valerian Cheong, Damian De Wind, Anthony Kenny Tan and I. It has been an eventful journey!
My Mumís Battle with Cancer---A Grim Experience
In 1998, shortly after my re-entry into the seminary, my mum (Theresa Lim), was diagnosed with stomach cancer. I recall vividly that she underwent a major operation in June 1998 and hence I applied and was granted a leave of absence from the seminary from July to December that year to care for her. During the whole period of my mum's battle with cancer, she was very much at peace and continued to trust in God. It was during this painful period that I also experienced the great providence of God's love and comfort, especially witnessing the unfailing faith of my mum despite her suffering. Though my mum passed away, having seemingly lost the battle with cancer, I am convinced that the Lord has given her a new life with Him in heaven as she had remained faithful, loving God till the end. The whole experience is difficult to adequately put into words but I can say that it has somehow strengthened and affirmed me in my own priestly vocation. It was a God-experience that will remain with me for the rest of my life.
After my mum passed away, my family moved to Yishun and hence the Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea became my parish and it was where I was ordained to the priesthood on 28 August 2005. In a very surreal way, during my ordination, I felt the presence of my mum witnessing my ordination. I am sure she was there in spirit with me. My dad was also not present as he is a stroke patient and hence the whole proceedings of my ordination were video-taped for his viewing at home.
Overcoming Challenges with Humility & Godís Grace
My journey of discernment, seminary formation and finally being ordained to the priesthood took about 12 years, which works out to be about nearly a third of my life so far! However, it is just the beginning of my priestly ministry---a gift from God, for which I am grateful. There are many challenges that I face as a priest as people's expectations are higher these days and I am not very articulate or eloquent. However, I feel that with humility, these challenges can be overcome with the grace of God. The Lord has sent various kind people to help me in the areas where I am inadequate and I am grateful for that.
For me, I have always felt unworthy to be called and chosen by God to be His priest. Therefore, I had many doubts initially, but it was when I finally put aside my own thinking and started trusting in God and accepted His Will that I found peace. It is indeed a great privilege to serve Him and His people as His humble servant.
Comfort in Psalm 139
In the darker moments of my life---I have found much comfort and solace in Psalm 139. It speaks of God's complete knowledge and care for us. Whenever I pray that Psalm, I find strength and comfort in God's love. It is the prayer that continues to edify me whenever I feel down. Psalm 139 constantly assures us that God is everywhere; He is always in our midst---even if you run to the ends of the earth---He will still be there!
The lyrics of the well-loved hymn "You Are Near" are based on this beautiful Psalm, "Where can I run from Your love, if I climb to the heavens You are there .... if I fly to the sunrise and sail beyond the seas ... still I'd find You there." The other equally beautiful hymn based on Psalm 139 is "0 God You Search Me" by Bernadette Farrell which I used as the Responsorial Psalm for my Ordination Mass. All the verses are so meaningful for me, especially this verse; "O God, You search me and You know me. All my thoughts lie open to Your gaze. When I walk or lie down You are before me: Ever the Maker and Keeper of my days."
Personal Holiness is the Key to Bringing Christ to Others
Now that I am a priest, I am convinced that personal holiness is of utmost importance in my priesthood. With personal holiness, I can then truly bring Christ to others, to the people of God and be effective in ministering the Sacraments. If I don't have Christ in me, how can I bring Him to others? It is Christ who works in me and through me---it is only with personal holiness that He can dwell within me. Therefore, I spend an hour each day to spend time with the Lord in prayer so as to be able to draw strength and inspiration from Him and do His Will. Prayer is the key to the Heart and Mind of God---to be in touch with what He wants me to do. Without prayer, I will be not able to carry out the Lord's work effectively.
While I had never given much thought to my attending daily Mass and praying the rosary everyday since young, I now realised that those are the reasons why I continued to remain in touch with God's Calling somehow despite my doubts during the whole discernment process. It was my prayer life and the prayers of loved ones and godly people that sustained me when faced with difficulties.
During my first year in the seminary, I had the opportunity to meet the late Mother Teresa who visited the Missionaries of Charity house near St. Anne's Church back then. I remember that her simple advice to us was about being faithful to God. She said, "God did not call us to be successful but to be faithful to Him." If we are faithful in doing His Will, God will always guide us in our journey despite the many trials and difficulties we face.
Be Open and Pray
Finally I encourage all young men and women to be open to God's invitation and be willing to follow Him---"As His harvest is plentiful but His labourers are few," Matthew 9:37. I urge all of you to continue to pray for more vocations so that there will be more labourers to harvest His Vineyard!
Please also pray for me that I may grow into a worthy instrument of God as a faithful and holy priest. [152-158]
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